SUPREME COURT RULES ON SENTENCING GUIDELINES
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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #299 - Mon, 17 Jan 2005
Last week's pair of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court on federal sentencing brought a welcome ruling and also create concerns that Congress will rewrite the sentencing guidelines in an even more harsh manner.
The first decision ruled appropriately that federal sentencing guidelines violate the right to a jury trial. Prosecutors routinely raised various peripheral issues - not heard by the jury - that unduly increased the length of a sentence.
The second decision changed the way federal judges determine sentences, ruling they no longer are required to follow sentencing guidelines - in fact mandatory rules written by a sentencing commission - that have been in place for two decades. The court found the sentencing guidelines unconstitutional because judges factored them into the calculation after conviction - a violation of the Sixth Amendment.
Prior to the ruling, 97% of federal defendants pled guilty - as a result of a plea bargain - to reduced charges in order to avoid a jury trial which could result in a much longer sentence. Thus federal prosecutors made the decisions that led to the length of sentence - which the judge followed using the so-called guidelines, as required.
We doubt that there are many United States daily newspapers that have not provided news coverage of the decision. Many have, or will, carry editorial page content on the decision. Thus letters to the editor of your local papers, as well as those shown as having clippings in the MAP archive, are appropriate.
Either the links http://www.mapinc.org/topics/federal+sentencing or http://www.mapinc.org/topics/sentencing+guidelines will bring up a list of potential targets for your letters. Because editorial page content makes superb targets for your letters, we have created a list linking to much of that content to date, below.
A blog written by Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition has ideas for your letter writing efforts. Start at http://november.org/blog/index.php/20050113 and move forward thru the blog using the calendar on the upper right of the page.
The Drug Policy Alliance wrote "The Court's decision now opens the door for Congress to address the issue of harsh federal sentences. But there's no telling what Congress might do with this opportunity. In fact, we already know that some in Congress will take the Supreme Court decision as an opportunity to increase prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders." Please visit this page for more information - and actions you may take: http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/011205sentencing.cfm
Thanks for your effort and support.
It's not what others do it's what YOU do
Links to Editorial Page Clippings
Published Thursday, January 13th
US IL: Editorial: High Court Tweaks Rules in the Interest of Fairness
US NM: OPED: A Just Plea
Published Friday, January 14th
US DC: Editorial: The Court on Sentencing
US NY: Editorial: Letting Judges Pass Judgment
US MA: Editorial: Judicious Leeway
US NY: Editorial: High Court's Gift to Judges
US MD: Editorial: Sentencing Sanity
US NY: Editorial: Justice Pendulum Swings
US TX: Editorial: Supreme Court's Sensible Changes to Sentencing
US ME: Editorial: Supreme Court Ruling Better for Justice
US OR: Editorial: A Better Way to Set Prison Time
US MO: Editorial: Court's Decisions Tilt Toward Justice
US CO: Editorial: Elbow Room for U.S. Sentencing
US MN: Column: Court Deepens Sentencing Doubts
Published Saturday, January 15th
US VT: Editorial: Sensible Sentencing
US PA: Editorial: Federal Sentencing Guidelines Give High Court's Ruling a Chance
US MI: Editorial: Let Judges Be Judges
US IA: Editorial: Allow Federal Judges Discretion in Sentencing
US KY: Editorial: Rethinking Sentences
US FL: Editorial: More Discretion for Judges
Published Sunday, January 16th
US IL: Editorial: A Verdict on Sentencing
US WI: Editorial: Remedying an Injustice
US PA: Editorial: Sentencing Guidelines: Restoring the 6th
US GA: Editorial: Mandatory Sentencing Rejection a Wise Ruling
US CA: Column: When Congress Plays Judge
Published Monday, January 17th
US UT: Editorial: Checks and Balances
US WA: Editorial: Judicial Discretion
US RI: Editorial: Judges and Juries
Additional suggestions for writing letters to the editor are at:
Writer's Resources http://www.mapinc.org/resource/
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Prepared by: Stephen Heath, MAP's Media Activism Facilitator
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